Copyright Law on Jingles

by Angela Floyd
Your jingle is copyrighted as soon as you write it down.

Your jingle is copyrighted as soon as you write it down.

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You’ve created a jingle, and you want to share it with the world but first protect it. In the U.S., copyright exists as soon as you write or record the jingle. If others want to use it, perhaps for a commercial, they need your permission. You can provide a license to use, but not own, your jingle, or you can transfer ownership outright. If the copyright is yours, the decision is yours.

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General Copyright Basics

Under U.S. copyright law, you have a copyright as soon as you make a fixed, tangible copy of your original work. In the case of your jingle, for example, no matter how many times you sing it out aloud or compose it in your thoughts, your ideas are not protected while in your head. When you write down or record your jingle, then copyright exists.

Music Copyright

Music copyright law can be complicated. Separate copyrights exist for both the written musical composition (music and lyrics) and the sound recording. Make sure you own the copyright. If someone else created the song with you, whether the lyrics, score or the sound recording, you may both have a copyright claim in the jingle as a “joint work.” If you were hired to write the jingle under a “work for hire” agreement, whoever hired you likely owns the copyright. If you performed the jingle, be sure the recording company does not own the copyright to the sound recording.

Copyright Registration

Registration, although not required for copyright, gives you additional legal rights, including exclusive control rights and rights to sue for damages. Remember, the music composition and the sound recording each have its own copyright. You can only register what you own the copyright for; so, if you own the copyright for both the sheet music and the sound recording, you can register both. If you have a co-author on any part of the jingle, be sure to include the other copyright holder.

Transfers and Licensing

If you own the copyright, you are free to transfer or license your copyright for a fee. For example, copyrights to musical compositions are commonly transferred to music publishing companies, which then handle licensing on behalf of writers and composers. You may also license your copyright, but not transfer ownership. You may need a lawyer to draft or negotiate a license or transfer agreement for you. Although not required, you can record a copyright license or transfer with the U.S. Copyright Office. The copyright office does not have a form for copyright transfer, but requires a signed copy of the agreement and a sworn statement of authenticity.

Fair Use

Under the fair use doctrine of copyright law, other people can use limited portions of your jingle for certain purposes such as critical reviews, classroom lessons, scholarly reports and news reports. What qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances and is decided on a case-by-case basis. Distinctions between fair use and infringement may require an attorney's advice.